A friend of mine recently expressed her sorrow over being a critical person. I did not see her in that way. What I saw was a woman of keen discernment. She may have had moments when she operated in criticalness, but by and large, she was picking up on things in the spirit that she needed to know for her own safety and for the safety of those she ministers to.
Many Christians struggle with being critical, or with thinking they are. It is important not to judge others, but if we are so afraid of judging that we are not allowing ourselves to hear clear warnings prompted by the Holy Spirit, we are missing out on important guidance from the Lord.
True discernment is deeper than merely observing others’ faults. It is understanding of what is really going on, of motives behind actions, of heart attitudes.
There are two types of discernment — the natural and the spiritual. Even those who are not Christians can have a natural discernment gift. We say they are astute, and that no one can pull the wool over their eyes. They tend to be analytical, understand how people tick, and are able to work well with others as a result.
God can impart to us a higher level of discernment as well. People who operate in spiritual discernment will sometimes feel an uncomfortableness or an inner warning that something is not right about a person or situation. God may be giving them discernment for the sake of protecting the local body of Christ from hidden evil. God does not give us discernment about wrong in another person merely so that we can have inside information. It is to help the person, or to protect ourselves or the local church.
There is a flip side to every weakness, and so it is with criticalness and discernment. A character flaw is nothing more than a God-given character strength that has been marred by our fallen, sinful nature. When sin entered the world, it corrupted the good things that God had placed within mankind. God wants to restore us by remaking our flaws into the strengths they were originally intended to be. For instance, stubbornness made positive becomes persistence or tenacity. Bossiness, when trained and modified with tact and a motive of servanthood, becomes excellent leadership. Criticalness is the peculiar flaw of those whom God has gifted in discernment. Although discerning people may always struggle to some degree with judging others, God’s redemptive plan is to make something useful and powerful for His kingdom out of what was once a weakness.
If the flip side of criticalness is discernment, how can we tell the difference between the two? There is nothing wrong with seeing a real flaw in someone else. This is just reality at work. We observe the ways people act, and sometimes wrong motives are very obvious. It is what we do with what we see that makes the difference.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I love the person any less because of what I see in him?
2. Do I take a secret pleasure in seeing this fault in him?
3. Do I feel superiority or scorn towards him?
4. Do I have a desire to point out his fault to others? (Love covers sin.)
5. Am I eager to see God “punish” him?
6. Do I write him off as unworthy of any useful place in ministry?
These and other negative feelings about people are strong indications of a judging spirit. The discernment may in itself be correct, but, if we harbor negative attitudes toward people in our hearts, we have crossed over the fine line into criticalness.
God does not give us permission to judge our brothers and sisters. Finding their flaws is His job, and He doesn’t deal with them in the same way we would. We tend to want to slap people for the things we see in them that aren’t quite right. God wants, rather, to whittle on them to change their flaws into strengths.
Sometimes we judge others because we live by a certain set of standards, and we assume everyone else knows and should live by the same code. God does have standards spelled out in the Bible, but how we interpret the ins and outs of applying them depends somewhat on our personality, the way we think, and the family culture in which we grew up. In addition, when we see other people doing things that we feel are wrong, we need to remember that God doesn’t convict us all of the same things at the same time in our lives. We must extend grace toward those who have different standards than we do. God will work out their realization of what needs changing inside of them in His own good time.
The Christian life is not living according to a set of rules. Real Christianity is fueled by a yearning to have God’s innocent, pure heart. If we can grasp the difference between these two mindsets, we will be more likely to view others with mercy, rather than judgment.
When we find ourselves responding with sorrow over others’ failings, a loving desire to pray for change in them, or a desire to help them overcome in any way that we can, we are exhibiting a right attitude. We who struggle with criticalness can take heart in knowing that God is actively moving us into giftedness in discernment, as long as we yield ourselves in humility to His reforming hand.
This article is based on an excerpt from Lee Ann’s book, River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus, an adult Bible/character study, suitable for use by the individual or as part of a group study.
© 2008 by Lee Ann Rubsam. All rights reserved.